The Final Exam

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Genesis 44 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’ ”

6 When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.

14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”

18 Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’

24 “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’

30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

INTRODUCTION

Pastor Mike did a great job preaching through chapter 43 last week while we were in Michigan celebrating my parent’s 50th anniversary. Daniel and I were thankful to listen to it on the way home. I was especially helped by his reminder from the text of how silly it is for Christians to believe there is no way out of the hard situations we face or that there are some from which no good could possibly come. Those things are, unfortunately, easy for me to forget if not for faithful preaching like Mike’s.

Well, Mike’s sermon and the chapter in Genesis ended with Joseph’s brothers eating, drinking, and making merry “in amazement” with the “governor” of Egypt. They’d been nervous that they might be heading into danger, but instead they were invited to a party as the guests of honor. With the party done, Joseph is about to send the brothers home and off to one final exam. In chapter 44, then, we find one last round of testing to know whether or not his brothers had truly become men of God, men of covenant faithfulness. And the main thing for us to see—the one thing I hope you really hold on to—is that passing God’s “tests” is only possible by God’s grace; grace He freely gives to all who come to Him in faith. How awesome is that? How awesome is our God? Let’s pray.

JOSEPH SENDS HIS BROTHERS HOME (1-5)

With the private dinner party over, Joseph was about to send his brothers home. Once again, however, he would do so with a test, a final faithfulness exam. He’d already tested their honesty by giving them a background test (asking about their family). He’d tested their integrity by putting them under pressure (by making a false accusation against them). He’d tested their father’s trust in them by requiring them to bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin (Jacob’s new favorite). He’d tested them under pressure again by putting them in prison (to see if they’d turn on each other or change their story). He’d tested their loyalty by forcing them to leave one of their brothers (Simeon) behind when they departed for home. He’d secretly tested them to see if they were sorry for their sins against him (listening in when they didn’t know he could understand). He’d tested them by putting their money back in their bags when they returned home to see how they would handle that. And he’d tested them to see if they were still jealous at the blessing of another by giving Benjamin a 5x portion of food at dinner.

To this point, in every way, the brothers passed. They showed a brand-new sin-restraining fear of the LORD, repentance over sin, integrity under pressure, honesty, and gladness at the good fortune of others. God was indeed making them into a faithful people. But again, they still had one final exam to go.

1 Then [Joseph] commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

As has been the case several times already, Joseph’s actions are curious here. Why would he seek to entrap his brothers like this? And especially, why target Benjamin? Once again, the answer is that Joseph was (by God’s design), doing what he could to ensure the godly character of his brothers before inviting them back into fellowship and new physical and spiritual blessings as God’s chosen people.

The issue, as we learned last week, was not tied to the money (that was a second gift from Joseph), it was the cup. As Joseph set this up, he’d been kind and generous to these men. Even though he’d accused them of being spies he provided a clear way to exonerate themselves (return with Benjamin), he’d only required one brother to remain as collateral until they did, he’d given them grain for free (not once, but twice), and he’d invited them into his home as honored guests. The charge was that they had repaid all of this kindness with the evil of stealing his (drinking and divination) cup.

How would the brothers respond to this final exam—to this final false accusation? We’ll find out in just a minute. First, I’d like to say a brief word about “divination”. What’s up with that? There were several pagan “divination” practices that Joseph may have witnessed during his time in Egypt. In order to discern the will of the gods, some would look for patterns of movement in whatever liquid a cup contained. Others would gaze into the liquid to see things as one might a crystal ball. This practice would eventually be forbidden in Israel, but even in Joseph’s time, it was folly since there is but one God alone and that God spoke directly to His chosen people. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that Joseph actually used the cup for divination. Rather, this was simply a way to explain why he would have noticed its absence and known its whereabouts. It was simply part of the character he was playing in order to examine his brothers.

JOSEPH CALLS HIS BROTHERS BACK (6-12)

Having sent the brothers off and sent his steward after them, Joseph’s steward quickly caught up to the band of brothers and did and said just as his master instructed (6). How, then, would the brothers respond to this section of the final exam? Understandably, they were caught off guard (if not entirely surprised given how strange their entire time in Egypt had been).

7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?

Again, the brothers’ reply was understandable. They wondered how the accusation could even be made in light of the fact that they’d just demonstrated their innocence and integrity. Hadn’t they just proven themselves twice—by following through on their promise to bring Benjamin and by returning the money from their sacks? Why, then, would they compromise themselves before a man who held their lives in his hands for a simple cup?

Certainly, even if naively, the brothers proclaimed their innocence.

9 Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

In light of the strange experiences they’d already had in Egypt, you’d think the brothers would have smelled something strange in all of this. Evidently, they didn’t though because they quickly named their own penalty. Indeed, they were so certain of their innocence that they had no problem setting the terms as steep as possible—death for the one who was found to have the cup and imprisonment for everyone else. Joseph’s steward (aware of his master’s plan), however, lowered the penalty to something a bit more reasonable—servitude for the guilty alone.

The brothers seemed to look forward to another opportunity to vindicate themselves against these false accusations and so they lowered their sacks to the ground for inspection. And, of course, when they did, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

And here is the genius of Joseph’s final exam. He was recreating a situation similar to the one in which his brothers betrayed him; this time in an even more tempting manner. Benjamin had become the replacement favorite of Jacob. Joseph had isolated Benjamin and his brothers—they were far away from their father’s watchful eye and protective hand. This time, by betraying their brother, instead of merely gaining a few pieces of silver, they would gain their own freedom and lives. The conditions were very much the same, even as the stakes were very much higher. It seems the brothers themselves recognized the parallels (v.16).

What would they do? Would they revert to the attitudes and behaviors of chapter 37 and betray Benjamin as they had Joseph, or would they somehow prove that the change in them was real? If anything would be able to finally answer question of the genuineness of their heart-change once and for all, this was it. We find the answer in the final section.

JOSEPH’S BROTHERS STAND IN JUDGMENT BEFORE JOSEPH (13-34)

The first thing the brothers did was to experience deep shock and fear at the revelation of the cup being found in Benjamin’s sack. Instead of proving their innocence, they were presented with the worst possible situation. The second thing they did was accompany the condemned (Benjamin) and the steward back to Egypt and certain judgment. V.13 says, “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.”

Joseph’s Charge (14-15)

The real question, however, is what they would do when they got there. The very fact that they didn’t abandon Benjamin was a good start. Presumably, according to the steward’s terms, they would have been free to turn Benjamin over to the steward and continue on their own way (as they had done all those years earlier with Joseph). How easy would this have been? Jacob would have been crushed, but it wouldn’t have been difficult to save their own necks by handing Benjamin over to the steward and concocting a believable story for their father. Instead, again, they returned to Egypt with Benjamin and went before Joseph on his behalf.

14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground.” In another act of dream-fulfillment and humiliation, Joseph’s brothers bowed before him.

Continuing to administer his final exam, Joseph asked his brothers, “15 What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” In other words, Joseph asked them, “Did you not think I would find out that you stole my cup? How could you be so foolish to think me such a fool?”

The Brothers’ Defense (16-34)

In response, Joseph’s brother Judah spoke up. “16 And Judah said, ‘What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants…'”.

Please notice two things from this verse. First, it was Judah (not Reuben as before) who took charge. He is the one through whom the line of Jesus would come. His speech and sacrificial act were not only important as one of God’s chosen people, but also to highlight the sweetness of the Savior coming from him.

Second, it is plain that the brothers understood the hand of God to be over all of this. In their minds, these things were happening ultimately as an act of divine justice against them for their sins against Joseph. Their unresolved guilt had become clear to them, as well as the fact that God was now holding them accountable for their treachery. It is for that reason Judah exclaimed, “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” Judah must have imagined the “governor” standing before him hearing this to be an admission of theft. In reality, however, Joseph knew exactly what this meant.

Because the brothers knew all of this was God’s doing, they also knew their only recourse was to confess, repent, and entrust themselves to the mercy of God. As a result, Judah offered all of the brothers into the servitude of the steward. It was as if Judah, spokesmen for the 10, recognized this as the judgment of God, recognized the futility of trying to stand up against the judgment of God which they’d avoided for so long, and resigned themselves to accept the punishment for a crime they didn’t commit as their just penalty for the one they did, “behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.”

This was a noble gesture and another right answer on the final exam. And yet, Joseph, had other plans.

17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”

Even though Judah had offered all of them up for the sake of the “guilt” of the one, Joseph would hold Benjamin alone responsible. And that lead to a remarkable, heart-warming, and finally confirming speech by Judah. Begging Joseph to hear him out, Judah recapped their earlier encounter with Joseph, their journey home, their father’s grief over the “loss” of the first of Rachel’s sons (Joseph) and fear over the possibility of the loss of the second (Benjamin) (18-29), and their ultimate follow-through in bringing Benjamin back with them.

Judah went on to explain what would certainly happen if they returned home without Benjamin—the grief-stricken death of their father (28) and his own acceptance of responsibility to prevent that from happening (29-32). Most impressively of all, Judah offered to take Benjamin’s place and punishment (33). Insodoing he showed a new and genuine faithfulness to God, as well as new and genuine love and compassion for both his father and brother.

33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

These are some of the sweetest words in the entire OT. They must draw our minds to Jesus’ own words in John’s Gospel, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And yet we must also remember that they were the words of the same man who hated Joseph because of their father’s favoritism (37:4) and then more and more because of God’s revelation to Joseph (37:8). This was the same Judah who lustfully and callousedly married a women God had forbidden (38:1-2). It was the same Judah who selfishly and dishonestly deprived his twice-widowed daughter-in-law a husband (38:11). It was the same Judah who, thinking he was going into a prostitute, slept with his own widowed daughter-in-law (38:15-16). This was the same Judah who was happy to see his brother murdered and was stopped from doing so only by the selfish realization, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?” (37:26). Instead of killing him, therefore, the same man who uttered the words of Genesis 44:33, gladly sold his own brother for a few pieces of silver.

Grace, do not miss the fact that the Judah of 44 is not the Judah of 37 and 38. God’s grace had reached and changed him. And his actions in this passage proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. How awesome is kindness and work of God to so thoroughly transform one of such wickedness?! Grace, how awesome is the kindness and work of God to so thoroughly transform every wicked one who calls on the name of the Lord?!

As we’ve seen over and over in Genesis, the beginning of salvation (the salvation that is offered to you today) is in realizing that you were born a Judah. That is, until you’ve recognized that your own sin and rebellion against God is every bit as wicked as the brothers, you are not meant to see yourself in Joseph, but in Judah. Do you see the hope that is in this? In Judah’s sin and God’s grace for him, we see that no one is good enough not to need to be saved, but also that no one is bad enough to be outside of the unlimited reach of God’s grace!

CONCLUSION

I mean to conclude with three very brief lessons, each building on the previous one.

First, in this passage, in Joseph’s brothers (especially Judah), we find a remarkable example of true repentance; repentance that truly refuses to recommit a sin when there is every opportunity to do so and even a penalty for not. What’s more, true repentance refuses to recommit an old sin not by a sheer act of the will, but by a changed appetite. The desire for the sin is no longer there where repentance is complete. We see evidence of this in the simple and glorious reality that the brothers didn’t ask Joseph for mercy (for themselves or Benjamin), but for the opportunity to become substitute sacrifices. Learn from Judah to look carefully for areas where this repentance lacking in your life Grace. Learn also from Judah that wherever it is found, it is a gift from God.

A second lesson is that God will certainly and completely bring about the sanctification of every one of His people. Grace, we know well that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But what is easy to miss is the fact that God has promised His people that the same grace that enables us to place our faith in God at conversion continues to work to make us holy (Romans 8:30). One more time, when we place our faith in Jesus, God’s grace is such that He immediately declares us not guilty based on Jesus’ righteousness, even as He also immediately begins to make us righteous. God had chosen this family to be His covenant people on earth and so He was turning them into faithful representatives, even as He still does so for His new covenant people today. Let us learn, therefore, to work to become holy in the knowledge that God is certainly working that in us.

And third, we see from this passage (and the rest of the Bible) that loving self-sacrifice is one key mark of genuine sanctification. One of the main ways we know that the saving grace of God has truly come upon us, that the love and sacrifice of Jesus really have been imputed to us, is when our natural impulse is increasingly to love and sacrifice for the good of others. Grace, give your life for the eternal lives of the people God puts in your path. Refuse to make this life or this church about you. Look to Judah and then more so to Jesus and determine, in the Spirit’s power, to pour yourself out in love that others may know and live in the good news that you’ve received.

The result of all of this, as we will see in next week’s passage, is a thorough and complete reconciliation and restitution. More than that, the result is a new and staggering kind of fellowship and blessing. In this, then, we have an awesome picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The OT is filled with shadows and types of the true salvation that was to come in Jesus—perhaps few clearer than this one where by God’s grace alone this family passed their final exam and was about to enter God’s pleasure in an unimaginable and everlasting way.

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